Hostile work environment cited in SHSU lawsuit

By McKinzie Brocail

Senior Reporter

Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011

Updated: Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tony Shipp 10-6-11

File Photo

IN THE LINE OF FIRE. Tony Shipp, chair for the Department of Art in the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication, (shown above) is a major focus in a lawsuit against the university, centered around unpaid wages and sexual harassment, filed by former members.

Two former professors are suing Sam Houston State University over allegations that their department chair created a hostile working environment through sexual harassment and retaliation, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court.

Former faculty Garry and Jasmyne Graybill claim that Tony Shipp, the current chair of the Art Department, promised merit pay increases for unpaid overtime for manual labor.

However, they claim that after they declined his repeated invitations to meet him at his house or go out "drinking" and complained about sexist comments and other situations of sexual harassment, Shipp retaliated. According to the lawsuit, Shipp allegedly did not give them merit raises and forced them to reapply for their jobs and compete with others.  

Shipp chose not to comment on the issue because of the ongoing case.

The Graybills, a married couple who were hired to team-teach the new Workshop in Art Studio & History (WASH) program for SHSU taught in the Art Department from Fall 2008 until resigning at the end of fall semester 2009.

According to the Graybill's lawsuit against the university:

Prior to their contract start date Shipp required the couple to "essentially renovate the inside of a building to prepare it for the WASH program."

The Graybills, who were non-tenured professors, allege that they were not paid for the seven weeks of 50-70 hours they worked over the summer to make the building usable.

"Shipp made it clear that he controlled the money in the department, including merit raises. As he put it, the Graybills only had to make him happy," the lawsuit states.    

The Graybills also allege that Shipp engaged in sexual harassment, both towards "Jasmyne individually and to the couple jointly" creating "an unlawful work environment."

The couple began avoiding the Art Office, but the complaint reports that Shipp would "continue to make invitations via text messages, phone calls or unannounced visits to their off-campus offices during evenings and weekends."

The lawsuit also alleges that Shipp made sexist comments about females,  commented on the couple's looks and engaged in unprovoked discussions of sex research and swinging/partner swapping.

After learning of other faculty who had similar complaints, the Art Department voted 10-6 to remove Shipp as chair.

However, the lawsuit claims that "despite the vote by the faculty, the [former] Dean of Arts and Sciences, Jaimie Hebert, decided to retain Shipp as chair."

Hebert is currently the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs and would not comment on the details of the lawsuit.

"I regret that I cannot discuss the particulars of a case with pending litigation," Hebert said. "I would be happy to discuss the issues surrounding the case once it is resolved."

Following the meeting and Shipp's retention as chair, the Graybills sustained an additional one-year contract for the 2009-2010 school year by SHSU without having to reapply.

The Graybills resigned when they were told they would have to reapply and did not receive merit pay.

"In their letter and exit interviews, the Graybills complained about Shipp and the harassment to which they were subjected. The Graybills never heard a response from the University," the lawsuit claims.

SHSU filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack evidence of discrimination by sexual harassment and retaliation. The lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

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